Interplay of the Norrin and Wnt7a/Wnt7b signaling systems in blood–brain barrier and blood–retina barrier development and maintenance

Yanshu Wang, Chris Cho, John Williams, Philip M. Smallwood, Chi Zhang, Harald J. Junge, Jeremy Nathans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


β-Catenin signaling controls the development and maintenance of the blood–brain barrier (BBB) and the blood–retina barrier (BRB), but the division of labor and degree of redundancy between the two principal ligand–receptor systems—the Norrin and Wnt7a/ Wnt7b systems—are incompletely defined. Here, we present a loss-of-function genetic analysis of postnatal BBB and BRB maintenance in mice that shows striking threshold and partial redundancy effects. In particular, the combined loss of Wnt7a and Norrin or Wnt7a and Frizzled4 (Fz4) leads to anatomically localized BBB defects that are far more severe than observed with loss of Wnt7a, Norrin, or Fz4 alone. In the cerebellum, selective loss of Wnt7a in glia combined with ubiquitous loss of Norrin recapitulates the phenotype observed with ubiquitous loss of both Wnt7a and Norrin, implying that glia are the source of Wnt7a in the cerebellum. Tspan12, a coactivator of Norrin signaling in the retina, is also active in BBB maintenance but is less potent than Norrin, consistent with a model in which Tspan12 enhances the amplitude of the Norrin signal in vascular endothelial cells. Finally, in the context of a partially impaired Norrin system, the retina reveals a small contribution to BRB development from the Wnt7a/Wnt7b system. Taken together, these experiments define the extent of CNS region-specific cooperation for several components of the Norrin and Wnt7a/Wnt7b systems, and they reveal substantial regional heterogeneity in the extent to which partially redundant ligands, receptors, and coactivators maintain the BBB and BRB.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E11827-E11836
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number50
StatePublished - Dec 11 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Tom Spencer for the gift of Wnt7a− mice, and Amir Rattner for helpful discussions and assistance with statistical analyses. This work was supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (J.N.), National Eye Institute Grants R01 EY018637 (to J.N.) and R01 EY024261 (to H.J.J.), and the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation (J.N.).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 National Academy of Sciences. All Rights Reserved.


  • Central nervous system
  • Mouse genetics
  • Vascular endothelial cells
  • β-catenin signaling


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